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Code-Switching in the Hong Kong Content Subject Classroom - A Building Block or a Stumbling Block to English Language Acquisition?

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posted on 26.10.2010, 08:42 authored by Clara Yin-mei Chan
Against the background of heated debates in Hong Kong concerning whether code-switching between Cantonese (L1) and English (L2) in EMI (English as the Medium of Instruction) content subject lessons facilitates or hinders English language acquisition, with most local linguists and educators asserting the former stand while the Government asserting the latter, this research was carried out to find out the communicative/ pedagogical functions of code-switching; the differences, if any, in the code-switching patterns used by the teachers with student populations of different English proficiency levels, and the insights they give to classroom code-switching. Content subject lessons of three schools of high, medium and low English standards were audio-taped and analyzed first in a qualitative manner using Conversation Analysis as the tool. The findings confirmed earlier theories on both the positive and the negative functions of code-switching. Then the same findings were analyzed quantitatively using pre-coded categories of the linguistic patterns of the code-switches of the teachers' talk. Findings showed that all-English, intra-sentential code-switching with English as the Matrix Code were correlated with the student population of high English proficiency; inter-sentential code-switching, and intra-sentential code-switching with English inserted at sites at the word-level and beyond the word-level in Cantonese base structures with the student population of medium English proficiency; and insertion of English nouns in Cantonese base structures, with the student population of the lowest English proficiency. The factor of students' English proficiency levels interacted with that of the lesson objectives and subject content to decide on the language patterns used by the teachers. The inference quality of the above findings was increased by interviews carried out with the teachers and the students from the sampled lessons. And the majority of the teachers and the students interviewed expressed that they favored inter-sentential code-switching over intra-sentential code-switching for English language acquisition in EMI content subject lessons. Subsequently, the researcher recommended that code-switching should be a legitimate strategy but used in a controlled manner. A continuum of code-switching patterns with different degrees of second language penetration was proposed for students of varied English standards.



Martin, Peter; Rogerson-Revell, Pamela; Armstrong, Kevin

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University of Leicester

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